by Rob Crain
This month closes out the 134th year of the Dallas Bar Association, and an extraordinary year it has been. Please indulge the personal privilege I take with this column; I will never be able to sufficiently express my gratitude for the honor of serving beside you as your President this year, but I am going to try. We entered this year with a long list of initiatives, probably more than we should have; but hey, that is what we do.
From the outset, our primary goal this year was to serve and support our new Executive Director, Alicia Hernandez, as she took the controls of our Association. If we could help her successfully make the transition, then that would be a great year. Well, a funny thing happened. Alicia took hold of the job as if she had done it for 20 years. All of the service and support came from her to us. I am confident my attempts to assist her just created a nuisance for her to clean up. As I have said many times this year, I believe the success of this Association is attributable to three things: (1) having the Belo Mansion to call home, (2) having a remarkably selfless and generous membership of service-driven lawyers, and (3) being blessed over the past 50 years with excellent leadership from our Executive Directors. It is clear the DBA remains in the hands of world-class leadership. Alicia, we are not who we are without you. Thank you for your steady hand, endless work ethic, and delaying your eye rolls until after I leave your office.
Alicia leads the best staff of any bar association in the country. I claim this statement as fact. Over the past two years I attended numerous conferences for bar association leaders. I learned to be careful in talking about programing by the DBA because no other bar association has a Belo Mansion, and no other bar association has a staff that does more. Their names are rarely called despite doing most of the work. To Grecia Alfaro, Biridiana Avina, Shawna Bush, Sherri Evans, Melissa Garcia, Liz Hayden, Yedenia Hinojos, Marcela Mejia, Viridiana Mejia, Judi Smalling, Jessica Smith, Rhonda Thornton, Kimberly Watson, Kathryn Zach, and Mary Ellen Johnson—thank you for your relentless dedication to our Association. You do the work while others take the credit, usually me.
For many of us who wandered into bar service early in our careers, Cherie Harris, Executive Director of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, played a significant role in our journey. Cherie is celebrating her 25th year with DAYL. Cherie, thank you for helping shape generations of lawyers into service-minded professionals. Your impact is all over our community.
The 2017 DBA Board of Directors is unique in many ways. It is the most inclusive and diverse of any past DBA board, and an example for bar associations across the country. There are more women on the Board than ever, representing nearly 60 percent of the Board. Just as importantly, leadership positions on the Board are increasingly diverse - and I’m confident these leadership numbers are on the rise. This is a working Board. Becoming a DBA Director is not a resume filler. I will take any bet this is the hardest working Board of Directors of any bar association in the nation. To all the Directors, thank you for your tireless work, dedicated example to our 11,285 members, and for embracing our vision this year. It is an honor to be associated with each of you.
And to you, fellow members, it is truly humbling to be witness to your generosity toward one another, our profession, and our community. Once again you produced hundreds of continuing education events, provided over 50,486 hours of pro bono service (yes, that number is correct, likely low), built your 27th home for Habitat for Humanity, mentored hundreds (school children, law students, and young lawyers), collectively performed thousands of community service hours through DBA organized events, raised over $1.1 Million for the 2016-17 EAJ Campaign supporting legal aid for the poor, presented the 32nd Bar None Production which has cumulatively raised nearly $2 Million for scholarships, orchestrated the state’s largest mock trial competition, created another year of award-winning Headnotes, organized countless social events often supporting charitable causes, supported members with alcohol and/or mental health concerns, memorialized the passing of DBA members with beautiful resolutions for their families, amicably resolved fee disputes (for free), and on and on and on… All of your service is volunteered, often sacrificing time from work and family. I will say it again, with all due respect to the wonderful work performed by many local trades, there is not another profession in North Texas that does more to serve others than the legal community.
Prior to getting engaged with bar service, I volunteered as a “Big” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program (highly recommended), but that was the extent of my comfort zone. Making a systemic difference in my profession or community was not on my radar. It was only after being introduced to the DAYL and DBA, and watching all of you give endlessly to help one another, our profession, and our community did the light turn on—that giving back is not just the right thing to do, it is a responsibility we share as lawyers to leave our profession and community better than we found it. I cannot thank you enough for being such a positive example in my life. I am indebted to you.
We approached this year with a singular focus, to bring people together. We followed the mantra, Stronger Together. And you delivered. You brought over 500 people together for our “214/817 Night at the Ballpark.” Lawyers, judges, and family members from the DBA, Tarrant County Bar Association, and Arlington Bar Association dined together and attended a game between the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. Robert Tobey and Krisi Kastl recruited many of you to launch an Ambassadors Program to educate non-members and encourage them to join the DBA or one of our sister bar associations. A contingency of DBA lawyers, judges and guests visited Cuba. Between visits to cultural and historical sites the group met with Cuban professors, lawyers, and judges. Relationships were forged and the world got smaller for all involved. Chief Judge Barbara Lynn conducted the first Naturalization Ceremony at the Belo Mansion. Our newest citizens were sworn in during a beautiful ceremony and then lunched with DBA members in the Pavilion.
Dawn Estes and Dena Stroh led us in partnership with the Dallas Women Lawyers Association to host a Fireside Chat with Lesley Stahl in celebration of Women’s Equality Day. This was followed up a couple weeks later with a panel discussion, Bridging the Gap on Gender Diversity, with General Counsels from AT&T; Toyota, Sandra Phillips Rogers; and Walmart, Phyllis Perrin Harris. And a personal note of thanks to David R. McAtee II, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel of AT&T. He and AT&T were the Presenting Sponsors for both events and David was a principal participant in both. David, Sandra, and Phyllis are global champions for diversity and generous supporters of the DBA.
The year also included a Fireside Chat with Mayor Mike Rawlings, an amazing Law Day address by Judge Tonya Parker, a revamped Bench Bar Conference (thank you Erin Nowell, Mary Scott, and Quentin Brogdon), celebration of the 40th anniversary of the purchase of the Belo Mansion (see video on DBA website), creation of Online CLE (coming to you very soon), creation of the Kim Askew Distinguished Service Award and new awards luncheon, security upgrades for the Belo Mansion, numerous improvements and appreciation efforts for Dallas County jurors (Judge Bonnie Goldstein led the effort with Judge Martin Hoffman, Laura Benitez Geisler, and others), rapid response to the legal needs of Hurricane Harvey evacuees (Michelle Alden), and on and on and on.
Our signature effort this year was partnering with Pastor Richie Butler and The Year of Unity to produce Together We Dine, a series of dinner discussions/listening exercises about race. Our fourth and final event on November 7th attracted nearly 200 people at Highland Park United Methodist Church. The synergy of this joint effort with our sister bar associations, the faith community, the medical profession, law enforcement and many others cannot be overstated. This is a movement, and it is growing fast.
There are many more unique efforts I should mention, and there are many more people I should publicly thank, but space is growing short, so please accept my apologies for not mentioning all your special contributions this year.
A few final thoughts as we move forward—our nation’s public discourse on sensitive issues like race is not where it should be. Sometimes it feels like rational public discourse no longer exists as the voices on radio, television, and social media are so loud and so strident they drown out all other voices, or worse, they motivate others to take extreme views.
We learned a number of lessons this year with Together We Dine. We learned there is a hunger for heartfelt discussion and listening. We learned that heartfelt discussion and listening almost always ends with an appreciation that what unites us is greater than what divides us. And, surprisingly, we learned how critical it is for professions like the legal profession to lead—not to lead the discussions, not to have the right answers, but to lead people together to places they feel safe sharing their beliefs while listening to others with different beliefs, and to help them find common ground. Most people actually trust the legal community. The people of North Texas want closer bonds and more common ground. All they need is help getting together so they can create those bonds and find that ground. You did that this year. And your impact is a snowball that has just started rolling.
In virtually every measurable way, our Association is stronger today than ever before, because of you—your service, your ideas, your time, and your concern for others. Thank you for allowing me to partner with you and be witness to it all. It has truly been my honor.